This week God gave me “fresh” manna and when He did,
it truly was a kiss,
a reminder that despite my daily self-centeredness,
He loves me.
He loves us when times are good and when we are good,
but, oh, He loves us when times are bad, and when we are bad.
That’s the gospel truth.
He also shows us how to respond when times are bad.
Psalm 126 shows us how not to waste our tears, but to sow our tears.
What His Spirit showed me that was new to me, and thrilled my soul,
is how the book of Ruth is an illustration of Psalm 126.
Both of these “works of art”
use the land as a picture of what God can do in the hearts of God’s people.
The same One who can turn a desert into a garden
can do that in our hearts,
and even the hearts of those whom we have all but given up on.
Both of these “works of arts” show how God can flood our sisterhood,
our fellowship, with resurrection power.
For we can encourage one another to find strength in God..
The book of Ruth begins with a famine in the land and ends with a harvest,
paralleling what He is doing in the hearts of His people.
Psalm 126 begins remembering a time of joy, of fertility,
because the community is now facing barrenness,
and praying God will restore them they way He restores the land.
Naomi has often been called a female Job, for within the first five verses,
she has lost her home, her husband, her sons, and
her hope of ever being a grandmother.
Her widowed daughters-in-law have been as barren as the land.
Naomi is lamenting, remembering days past, when her arms were full.
She feels forsaken by God.
She has often been called a female Job.
Like Job, she has lost so much.
Like Job, she laments, which is a huge secret in sowing our tears,
for it keeps us connected to God.
Unlike Job, who had miserable comforters,
Naomi has a true friend in Ruth.
As the story unfolds, God uses this most unlikely vessel,
a barren Moabite widow.
We’ll see how TOGETHER,
they stay connected to God,
and how Ruth comes home to Naomi rejoicing,
bringing in the sheaves.
In the same way, Psalm 126 has the Israelites remembering days past,
when life was sweet, their bellies full, and their mouths full of laughter.
But now, there seems to be a famine of some kind, and they are lamenting.
But we learn from this psalm, and from Ruth and Naomi,
how to respond to God in these barren times,
so that one day we too may come home rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
I’ve spoken and written so much about the book of Ruth, cherishing its beauty.
Yet God’s Word is ever new. Seeing this parallel with Psalm 126, and also reading a new and intriguing book on Ruth by Carolyn Custis James, has brought what
is often describes as “fresh manna,” echoing back to the warning to the Israeltites
not to try to store up manna, but gather each day.
We must never assume we’ve stored up all we need to know from the Word,
but gather each day.
James is somewhat controversial in Reformed circles because she is a feminist, but I believe she is a feminist in the best sense of the word. Though I have not read all her works, what I have read seems neither strident nor unscriptural. I do think it is easy to fall into the trap of painting a caricature of someone based on what others have said, without real basis, and I feel the Reformed community has done that with James, when she really has so much to offer. She sees how differently Christianity is from the world religions in its high view of women and encourages us to embrace this same view. Here is a taste of what James brings in “The Gospel of Ruth.”
Naomi’s wrestlings with God are weighty matters, not to be brushed aside as a matter of female disposition or minimized as some kind of hormonal episode. The Bible takes her seriously and expects us to do that same…And the simple everyday battles Ruth is fighting to put food on the table and to rescue a dying family are not private matters of little concern to anyone else. The redemption of humanity hangs in the balance. The line Ruth is fighting to save “just happens” to be the royal line of Israel – the ancestors of the Messiah. Ironically, God’s purposes of humanity are riding on the shoulders of two women the world believes have lost their ability to contribute…Just as Jesus overturned the trading tables in the temple, he also overthrows humanity’s habit of devaluing of women and girls.
Though God blessed Steve and me with biological and adopted children, I do not want to reinforce the stereotype that women only have value when they are married and mothering. Indeed, Isaiah 54 flies in the face of that stereotype.
God values us not on the basis of race, gender, or fertility. We are valued simply because we are His: male or female, Greek or Jew, slave or free… He is also compassionate to us when we are facing barrenness of any sort: physical, emotional, spiritual… He saw the tears of Hagar, of Naomi, of the Widow from Nain, of the Samaritan woman… and came to each of them, giving them what they needed.
Just as I believe God gifted most men to be providers and protectors, He gifted most women to be relational. God gave us the book of Ruth, in part, I believe, to show us how to use that gift to bring glory to Him, and so that together, we may come home rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
God Hunt: Be alert this week to people from your past who strengthened you, and people each day who are in your path, and see them through the eyes of God. Is it possible that you will have a “divine” intervention?
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Be alert to the people in your path and report anything God helped you to see with fresh eyes.
Monday: Psalm 126
3. Read Psalm 126:
A. We don’t know what time the psalmist is remembering in his sorrow, but we do know he remembers how they felt. What pictures, phrases, and praise do you find in verses 1-3?
B. Why is it important to remember the good times in the hard times?
(My dear friend Twila is plagued with severe migraines that have returned in ferocity and frequency, and last week when she was at my house for a visit, she had to go home due to a migraine. I hugged her and prayed for her and through tears she said, “But everything else in my life is so good!” She is not forgetting God’s goodness even in the midst of pain.)
C. What does the psalmist ask in verses 4-6?
D. How do you see God’s power in turning a barren desert into a garden in this psalm?
This from one commentator on the meaning of “Negeb or Negev”
God’s people here view themselves like one of those dry riverbeds in the Negev, the desert of the south of Israel. But their prayer is that God will restore them like the streams in the Negev. Such a vivid picture, because at certain seasons when there’s rainfall in the Negev it comes copiously, abundantly, and in a few hours what was a dry riverbed is transformed into an overflowing, torrential stream…
Tuesday: The God Who Makes Dry Bones Live
The men are all dead by verse 5, and the lead characters in this story are Naomi and Ruth. Yes, Boaz comes in later, and he is important in that he is a Christ-figure, but God gives us the gift of showing that women have value and can be used mightily of Him even when they may not have what the world values. Naomi was probably a wealthy woman in Bethlehem, for Elimilech was an Ephrathrite, which not only links him to David, but was a wealthier clan. Cyril J. Barber says “being an Ephrathrite was equivalent to being from a well-established family in Boston.” She also was the mother of sons, which were valued much more highly than daughters in that culture.
4. Read Ruth 1:1-5 and describe all that Naomi has lost, and how this could parallel Psalm 126.
5. Though Naomi is in high-tide grief, she is still kind to her daughters-in-law. See if you can find examples of this in Ruth 1:6-9.
Ruth must have seen something in Naomi that she didn’t see in the women who embraced the god Moab. And yet Naomi’s circumstances are terrible, and would repel rather than draw people to her God, who allowed it all. So, why did Ruth leave her family, her land, her people — and commit her whole life to Naomi and to Naomi’s God? Right now I am dealing, as are many of you, with a family member who is absolutely hostile to the real Jesus. She is facing real trouble and I have been at her side over these last several months. Yet last night she raised the subject of my faith again, and spoke angrily about it, bringing up old arguments like the Crusades, Christians who owned slaves…and her belief that the Bible says the earth is flat. I didn’t want to argue. I kissed her, told her I loved her, and came home weary, thinking, “Is she a lost cause?”
So what James wrote here, is what I must never forget.
The apostle Paul raises the subject of barrenness to the level of a theological teaching when he brings up Sarah and Abraham in Romans…God chose a hopelessly infertile elderly couple when he wanted to build a great nation… Humanly speaking, it was a lost cause from the start, for Abraham’s “body was as good as dead” and “Sarah’s womb was also dead.” Yet Abraham believed “God had power to do what he had promised.” …Ezekiel preached to a field of dry bones, but only God could bring those bones to life. It takes God’s mega-voltage resurrection power to awaken a human soul from death to life. No amount of persuasion, perseverance, loving kindness, or proven evangelistic techniques can overcome the grip of death and breathe life into the human soul, although God regularly employs all of these methods and more in the birthing process. The same high-voltage resurrection power that released Jesus from the tomb works every time a sinner turns to Christ.
Resurrection power took hold of Ruth on the road from Moab to Bethlehem. There’s no other way to explain what happened to her.
6. Describe the persistence you see in Ruth 1:10-18. How do you explain it? What hope does this give you?
7. Do you believe that God can make dry bones live? If so, why?
8. Are you being alert to the people in your path? Do you have a God Hunt to share?
Wednesday: Better Together
In both Psalm 126 and in the book of Ruth, we see the beauty of community, of helping one another find strength in God. It is what we have here!
Ruth’s famous commitment is often spoken at weddings, even though it was actually spoken by one woman to another. It is also a picture of what God asks from us, to trust Him, to cling to Him for better or for worse, to make His people our people, and to stay close to Him even in death. I like this particular song and the words spoken in the middle because it points out what is really valuable in life: our relationship with God and with one another. That is the only thing that will last. Listen to this and then share your comments:
9. Share your comments on the above.
10. How have your sisters here strengthened you in the hard times? Be specific if possible.
11. How many times did Naomi send Ruth back? Why do you think Ruth did not give up?
12. When times are bad, what do you know about God that can keep you going? Speak this to your soul.
Thursday: Listening with Your Heart
13. Read Ruth 1:19-22
A. Describe Naomi’s lament in verses 20-21.
B. How could these words have hurt Ruth?
C. What do you think Ruth might have heard that helped her not to take offense?
I’ve been reading Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning. He contrasts the Pharisee who pretends all is well with the child who is open and honest. The Pharisee does not need God, but we are to look to our Father the way a child continually does with his mother or father.
Naomi has not pretended she has it all together. And Ruth has listened between the lines.
Naomi is hurting so much that she is no longer expecting God to meet her needs. Ruth listens not so much to Naomi’s words, but to her heart — which we can do if we exercise our relational gift. Ruth also doesn’t judge Naomi by these bitter words, but remembers the woman who loved her and gave her grace, even though she was a Moabite. And God comes to Ruth, flooding her dry bones with life. And Ruth trusts Naomi’s God, and goes forth in faith. Then God uses Ruth to restore Naomi. God leads Ruth to the field of godly Boaz, Boaz, our Christ-figure, fills Ruth’s arms with grain, and Ruth returns that night to Naomi, bringing in the sheaves.
14. Read Ruth 2:17-23
A. Describe the scene in verses 17-18.
B. How do you see a turn in Naomi’s attitude toward God in verses 19-20?
C. What were some of the things that Ruth did that helped Naomi heal?
15. Are you being alert to the people in your path? Do you have a God Hunt to share?
Friday: The Gift Women Can Use For The Glory of God
I think you will love today, so I’m hoping you are still with me! Sociolinguist Deborah Tannen has enlightened me on why language styles of men and women are so different. Status is important to men (perhaps because God wired them to be providers). Men like to hold the floor and engage in report talk, sharing stories, jokes…but sometimes they are not the best listeners. Connection is important to women (perhaps because God wired them to be nurturers.) Women engage, not in “report talk,” but in “rapport talk,” volleying in conversation, establishing ties. You can see these differing drives in the conversation of children. Watch this from Deborah Tannen:
16. What did you learn and what comments do you have on the above?
17. Read Ruth 2:19-22 and describe the “rapport talk” between Ruth and Naomi.
18. How did each woman not only listen and connect, but also help one another find strength in God?
19. Have you been alert to the people in your path? Have you been able to use your gift for nurturing to the glory of God? If so, share.
20. What is your take-a-way and why?